Scenic USA - Oklahoma

Rita Blanca National Grassland

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Pronghorn - Rita Blanca National Grassland, Oklahoma Panhandle

Photos by Ben Prepelka
Scenic USA Photography

   The pronghorn, found only on America's high plains and sagebrush flats of the West, were reduced by the millions along with the buffalo during the late 1800s. More than 50 million pronghorn once lived in western United States from southern Sakatchewan to northern Mexico. Some researchers believe they once outnumbered the Great Plains buffalo. After the great slaughter, ending in 1915, only 12,000 pronghorn remained. Presently numbering around one million, one would guess that the Rita Blanca National Grassland would be the perfect home for antelop, but the shortgrass here makes up a very small part of their diet. Pronghorn exists almost entirely of forbs (non-woody flowering plants) and brush. Pronghorn Family Sagebrush provides forage during harsh winters when the snow is deep and other plants have stopped their growth cycle.
   The Rita Blanca National Grassland bridges the border in the Texas Panhandle and the western Oklahoma Panhandle. Settlers, once lured by cheap farmland, soon faced the harsh realities of plains farming. With overproduction, farm prices collapsed in 1919-20, and added problems came in the form of severe drought, the Great Depression and a devastating Dust Bowl. The federal government stepped in during the 1930s, setting up Land Utilization Projects. These programs allowed purchase and restoration of these damaged farmlands. Today's grasslands are administered by the Cibola National Forest Service.
   This pair of timid pronghorn pose briefly, before sprinting off into the Oklahoma grassland. Only outdone by the African Cheetah in a short sprint, the pronghorn can reach 60 mph and sustain a speed of 30 mph for miles! No other land mammal can keep pace with the "prairie racer" over a long distance. It's hard to image that this deer-like creature, when encountering a fence, will usually try to crawl under it.

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